To convince people to buy your ideas and your offerings, you need a writing process that centers on your audience, their problems, and targeted solutions to those problems. You also need a process that’s streamlined and quick because “writer” is just one of the many job titles you fill on any given day. In other words, the way you produce writing should be as nimble and flexible as you and your organization are.
Two key principles will help you develop a writing process you can adapt to the many different communication challenges you encounter. The first of these principles is creative destruction. Throw away all the “rules” you’ve learned about writing, and tune out the mental chatter that tells you what “good” writers do and don’t do. Instead, start thinking about writing as a series of interrelated activities that anyone can master with guidance and practice. If you can learn to ride a bike or code an app or cook an omelet, then you can certainly learn the craft of written communication.
The second principle for writing success is design thinking. Designers create artifacts that solve problems, and so do writers.
Just take a look around your home or office. From pens to pots, door handles to dog food dispenser, every item you see was created to solve a problem. For instance, my favorite pens have a cushiony rubber grip to solve the problem of hand fatigue. My double-handled pots solve the problem of imbalanced cooking utensils and long handles crowding the stovetop. My super-light Mac Air solves the problem of having to lug around a heavy laptop.
Designers approach a problem with curiosity, not a pre-formed answer. They start by focusing first on the user of the product or service they’re designing. They explore the problem in depth, from the user’s perspective, finding out as much as they can about the user’s world, their tasks, and their purposes. During this process, they make it a habit to continually second-guess themselves, questioning their own assumptions about what will or won’t make a solution effective for the user. Only after they’ve viewed the problem from the user’s point of view do designers articulate the criteria a solution must meet and create a prototype that fits those criteria. After they’ve built their prototype, they test it out with real users so they can confirm that the item or process they’ve built works in the real world.
If you dive into writing without taking the time to learn about the people who will be reading your words, your solutions (your messages and documents) inevitably flop. Your e-mails go unanswered, your proposals fall flat, and your marketing copy fails to magnetize opportunities. You may be communicating accurately, even clearly, but if you’re not connecting with your audience in ways that resonate with them, you’re just wasting your time and energy.
But here’s the good news: when you invest time in analyzing your audience, you gain instant focus and insight into how to attract and persuade your target readers. And you don’t need to hire a research assistant or private eye to investigate your audience.